TANGERANG, Indonesia -- Asian governments in countries with large Muslim populations condemned U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move its embassy to the city, with the leaders of Indonesia and Malaysia speaking out against it.
"Indonesia strongly condemns the United States' unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and asks the U.S. to reconsider the decision," President Joko Widodo said at a news conference on Thursday.
With parliamentary elections scheduled for next year, Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak was more forceful. Speaking at a ruling party conference in Kuala Lumpur the same day, he said, "I call on all Muslims across the world to let your voices be heard. Make it clear that we strongly oppose any recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital for all time."
U.S. ally Israel and Palestine both claim Jerusalem as their capital. Since the 1967 Six-Day War with its Arab neighbors, Israel has controlled the entire city, seizing the eastern part from Jordan. Jerusalem has long been a place of pilgrimage for Christians, Jews and Muslims and has been coveted and fought over by empires from East and West throughout its long history.
Criticism rolls in
"We condemn this recognition," Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told a group of diplomats at the Bali Democracy Forum, a decade-old annual meeting being held this year near Jakarta. Marsudi pointed to a black and white kaffiyeh draped over her shoulders and declared: "I stand here wearing this Palestinian scarf to show the strong commitment of Indonesia to always be with the Palestinian people for their rights." A kaffiyeh is a traditional scarf similar to the kind worn by the late Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat.
Malaysia's Foreign Ministry released a statement urging the U.S. to reconsider its decision, citing Jerusalem's large Arab population. "Recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is not a recognition of the reality on the ground; it is an expression of support for Israeli policy, much of which is in contravention of international law."
Pakistan also chimed in, releasing a statement from the prime minister's office saying, "It is deeply regrettable that pleas from states across the globe not to alter the legal and historical status of Al-Quds Al Sharif have been ignored, more out of choice than necessity," using the Arabic name for Jerusalem.
A statement posted on the Indian Foreign Ministry website said: "India's position on Palestine is independent and consistent. It is shaped by our views and interests, and not determined by any third country." With a large Muslim minority of well over 100 million people, India is led by a nationalist, Hindu-dominated party and historically has had good relations with Israel, with both countries gaining independence around the same time in the late 1940s.
Singapore's Foreign Ministry said that "any premature and unilateral action to alter the status of Jerusalem will impede progress for a peaceful resolution of the Middle East and Palestinian problem," and added that the status of the city should be decided through Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui, speaking at the forum in Indonesia, said, "Such a decision will hamper the peace process efforts and will plunge the region into further turmoil and instability."
Fulfilling a pledge
President Trump's announcement was in keeping with a campaign promise he made to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in 2016. "It's the right thing to do," Trump said at the White House on Wednesday, while also for the first time endorsing a two-state solution to the seven-decade-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
The announcement went further than previous U.S. administrations were willing to go following passage of a law in the U.S. in 1995 calling for the U.S. Embassy in Israel to be moved inland from the Mediterranean city of Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Barack Obama, Trump's predecessor, called Jerusalem Israel's capital in a campaign speech, but upon winning the White House followed the example of earlier presidents by signing a waiver postponing official recognition.